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Parents Voice Common Core Concerns

During a sometimes raucous forum on Nov. 13, parents, teachers, taxpayers and students took State Education Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to task over the common core standards, venting their concerns and outrage.

State Senator Jack Martins of the 7th Senate District moderated the talk, while protesters outside chanted, “1, 2, 3, 4...We don’t want your common core!”

One of those protesters was Syosset business owner Ken Vicino.

“I’ve owned my own business for 14 years in Syosset, I got married, had kids, bought my own house,” he said, bothered by statistics showing many community college students need remedial classes. “I’ve been very successful, all without a college degree. Not everyone needs to go to college to be successful.”

Martins’ team selected 38 questions out of 250 submitted by interested parties. The primary concerns stemmed from four main issues: application of the standards, teacher evaluations, testing and student privacy.  

Parents angrily questioned the one-size-fits-all approach that seems to underlie the standards—the “common” in common core.

“The current tests especially fail to appropriately accommodate the unique needs of students with disabilities, resulting in test scores that do not represent an accurate measure of student achievement or potential,” Jericho’s Board of Education said in a resolution passed during its last meeting and sent to King’s office. “Further, the tests and testing schedule have a disproportionate negative effect on children with developmental differences and other disabilities."

King said at the forum that the alternate assessment design is “challenging,” acknowledging that devising one test to serve all levels is a tall task. State reps are discussing possible remedies.

Much of the anger over common core stems from the hurried approach taken by the state in implementing the new learning standards.

“The Common Core Learning Standards themselves represent an important and necessary upgrading of what we teach our children and what we expect them to know,” said Syosset Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ronald Friedman. “However, much of what is included in Common Core is new and different. The problem we are dealing with is the mandate that we very hastily implement much of these new standards without time for our teachers themselves to learn what they are all about, and how best to teach them.”

A second key issue is teacher evaluations. Twenty percent of a teacher’s or principal’s rating is linked to state test scores.

 “To add insult to injury, we’re expected to test students on these hurriedly-implemented standards, and then use the results to rate our students and teachers,” said Friedman. “The result is unnecessary inaccuracy, anxiety, and misinformation about what our children really know and how well they know it. All of these negative results could have been avoided if the entire process of introducing the standards, teaching teachers how best to teach them, and then assessing the learnings had been properly explained, paced, and supported.”  

The state reported a 40 percent drop in test scores of third- through eighth-grade in the new roll-out of the English and math curriculum.

“Testing results should be utilized to inform instruction, improve program and diagnose needs, but not as the main accountability measure for teacher evaluation,” the Jericho Board of Education said. “

King said the role of student performance via test scores is established in state law, yet the majority is in school district hands.

“Eighty percent of the evaluation is determined locally through collective bargaining,” King said. “For the 80 percent of teachers who don’t teach students in grades three through eight ELA and math, the gross portion is determined by the school districts.”

Westbury Teachers Association's Christine Corbett stepped up to discuss students losing interest in school because of a rigid testing regime. When it became sound to "ignore the whole child in an effort for students to be college and career ready in elementary school," Corbett asked. “At what expense are our state leaders willing to gamble the childhood of students, as young as 8 years old, who have already been turned off to school?”

King was adamant that this is not the goal of the standards. “When we talk about college and career readiness, we’re not just talking about the skills in math and English,” said King. “Our emphasis is to address the needs of the whole child.”

Corbett argued that the common core roll-out should have been started from the beginning, not in third grade, and that it was rushed.

Martins interjected, asking King if he’d re-evaluate the progress of the common core in full. The commissioner said he didn’t think Corbett’s claim that students are losing interest is “true everywhere,” igniting parents to stand up, heckle and point fingers.

“The problem, is [King] is living in the world of theory,” Corbett said. “The way this whole process was rolled out and shoved down these kids' throats...they weren’t ready for this."

The final topic of the forum focused on student privacy, specifically inBloom, a nonprofit organization the state is using to mine student testing data and personal information. Manhasset Data Coordinator Colleen Leon questioned why student data would still be provided to inBloom even if a district did not participate in Race To The Top, a federal grant program to spur innovation and reforms in schools.

“The only use of data that is allowed is data that is being used to provide a service,” King said. “Now, aggregate data will be available through the portal. A district will be able to see the performance of other students in other districts, but not students’ names.”

Outside the forum, Jeanette Deutermann, founder of the Facebook group “Long Island Opt Out,” now more than 12,000 members strong, was among the protesters. According to Deutermann, data collected through inBloom catalogs an individual’s information from birth to age 20 and includes not just names, but economic status, ethnicity, disabilities, and other information that parents may wish to keep private.

“They want the data and that’s what is driving the entire system," Deutermann said. The challenge for school districts is to keep families from opting out, which impacts state and federal funding. With groups like Deutermann’s gaining steam, that challenge is growing.